Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Winter Moulting and Feather Picking

I question keeping chickens some days. Most of those days fall in the winter. Don't get me wrong, I like chickens. I like watching their crazy antics and I most definitely enjoy their tasty eggs. But this winter I am having some issues you could say. This winter my hens decided to start moulting. Winter is not usually the time of year that you encounter half feathered hens running around. But a few of mine have their internal clocks all screwed up and somehow they decided the best time of the year to loose their feathers would be when the temperatures are near 0 degrees. It's been frustrating to say the least.

You might remember I added five new pullets last Spring to replace the hens I've lost over the past few years bringing my little flock back up to eight hens. Two of the new ones and one of the senior hens have several bare spots on their backs and rear ends. Those three all somewhat resemble this.

Part of it is moulting and the other part is that when the new growth comes in it is quickly picked off by the other hens. Feather picking has always been an issue in my coop. They don't ever pick each other to death but once a hen is bare it's very difficult for her to regrow her feathers. My laydies are cooped up, not allowed to free range (due to far too many predators) so I believe they get a little bored. I doubt lack of protein is a factor, as it sometimes can be in feather picking. They get an 18% protein feed along with black oil sunflower seeds. But something has to be done to get feathers back on these poor hens since it is, after all, the middle of a very cold winter.

So I went to the local farm and ranch store to look for a solution. The gal there directed me to this stuff:

It's called Pick-No-More Cover-Up Lotion. It was around $7 and it smelled like tea tree oil (which I love) and was the consistency of chocolate pudding.  The hens didn't mind me smearing this all over their rear ends.

I went inside and came out later to discover they had eaten it off of their backs. All three were as bare butted as before. They looked at me like "come on lady give us more of that tasty pudding!" Dang chickens. So I did a little research online this time before returning to the store. Google informed me that I should try either pine tar or Blue Kote to prevent feather picking. So this time I picked up the store's version of Blue Kote.

My theory was this product would stain their white skin dark so that it wasn't like a big white bulls-eye for the other chickens to pick at. Perhaps if their backs were a consistent dark color it would be like camouflage. Couldn't hurt right? So each hen was picked up and sprayed about every three days. Here is a before and after on my young Sex Link pullet.

It did help it not be so noticeable of a bare spot. It think anyways. This has been an ongoing project since around the middle of December (so nearly a month now). The results are in! The Blue Kote is working although slowly and only on one hen. The senior Silver Laced Wyandotte hen who has had a big bare spot from feather picking (and being low gal on the totem pole her whole life) is growing new pin feathers. I was delighted to see this. She has, literally, been barebacked for two years. Here is her before and after.

So for now, the project is still on going. I have faith that the two young hens will eventually grow their feathers back. Probably around the time that Spring hits and the weather warms up. For now those two get put in a dog kennel and stay in the warmish side of the shop (Hubby's side) on those bitterly cold nights. These animals will always be a learning experience for me. As soon as I feel like I have it figured out a new challenge arises. But I suppose that's the fun in it.

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